There are plenty of good reasons to take a vacation, whether you’re eager to catch up on beach reads with a cocktail in hand or just want to take a much-needed break from the office. Still, while 73 percent of full-time private sector workers are offered paid vacation days, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, research suggests that Americans are taking less time off than ever. In fact, about 55 percent of Americans are leaving some or all of their vacation time unused.
That’s right. More than half of us our leaving free time off on the table. And that means we’re missing choice opportunities to become happier, healthier, and all-around more productive, because, as it turns out, vacations are good for you. Just read on to see why putting aside your workaholic tendencies—even if just for a moment—is in your best interest.
1. Lower Blood Pressure
Approximately one in three adults in America has high blood pressure, putting them at risk for chronic disease, strokes, and heart attacks. The good news? Taking a vacation could be the cure. Research published in Psychosomatic Medicine reveals that individuals who spent more time enjoying leisure activities, like vacations, had reduced cortisol levels. High cortisol is linked to increased blood pressure, so if you want to keep your numbers in a healthy range, it’s high time you start scoping out hotels.
2. A Healthier Heart
As your blood pressure drops, so does your risk of heart attack. Fortunately, taking a vacation can have a profound effect on your cardiovascular health, lowering your cortisol levels, blood pressure, and your heart attack risk in one fell swoop.
3. Weight Loss
Want to lose those last 10 pounds? Try taking a vacation. Having high cortisol levels increases your risk of unintended weight gain, but a relaxing trip can have those numbers dropping in no time.
4. Lower Stress
If you’re feeling stressed out, there’s virtually no better medicine than a vacation. In addition to reducing the psychological stress of the daily grind, taking a vacation can reduce stress-related cortisol surges, breaking you out of the cortisol and stress cycle for good.
5. Better Overall Health
Staying healthy could be as easy as using your vacation days. Researchers at Penn State found a link between leisure activities, like travel, and increased overall health in later life, so start racking up those frequent flier miles now.
6. A Slimmer Waistline
That ever-expanding waistline could be stopped with few days of sun and sand. Vacationing reduces cortisol levels, which are linked to weight gain, specifically in the abdominal region. Take a few days off, lower your cortisol levels, and you’ll be back in your skinny jeans before you know it.
7. Increased Creativity
Seeing the same four walls day in and day out is enough to make anyone feel more than a little stifled. Fortunately, all it takes is some vacation time to tap that font of creativity living within you. If you can go abroad, all the better: Researchers at Northwestern University have linked international travel with increased creativity. Few great artists have found themselves inspired by a cubicle in the suburbs, after all.
8. Opportunities to Make New Friends
After college, opportunities to make new friends often seem few and far between. Luckily, traveling can open you up to a much wider social circle than the one you have available to you at home, affording you lasting friendships along the way.
9. Better Mood
Finding yourself in a less-than-pleasant mood after a long work week is hardly unheard of. If you want to reduce your stress and return to the office with a smile, consider taking a vacation. In fact, a study published in Applied Research in Quality of Life reveals that just booking a vacation to look forward to significantly increased study participants’ happiness.
10. Increased Productivity
If you want to get your work done faster and more effectively, you should definitely take those vacation days. Multiple studies suggest that participating in leisure activities can increase workplace productivity, and anecdotally, a few days on the beach is a surefire cure for office burnout.
11. Improved Relationships
Stress is no better for the health of your relationships than it is for the health of your body. According to one study, couples who take vacations together are happier and more satisfied with their relationships than those who don’t.
12. A Better Sex Life
Not only is vacation sex more fun than your average roll in the hay at home, taking a vacation may make you more likely to feel frisky. Vacationing can lower your cortisol levels, thus increasing circulation and arousal. And having sex in a bed you don’t have to make yourself afterwards? Truly top-notch stuff.
13. Access to New Cultures
It’s easy to forget that there’s a whole world outside of your city or town. Vacationing can open you up to cultures you would never have a chance to experience otherwise, making you worldly (and a whole lot more interesting to talk to) in the process.
14. A Healthier Immune System
While recycled airplane air is unlikely to do great things for your health, foreign food might just give your immune system a boost after all. Research suggests that introducing new foods into your diet can rapidly alter the bacteria in your gut, affecting your immune system, about 70 percent of which lives in your digestive tract.
15. Reduced Anxiety
Feeling anxious? Try taking some time off. Cortisol and anxiety are inextricably entwined, and lowering the former with a vacation can help you ditch those feelings of anxiety, too.